Yesterday to Today at HHPL

The Halton Hills Public Library has served our community for more than a century. The Georgetown Public Library was founded in 1895. Three years later, the Acton Public Library opened its doors. The two libraries operated separately until 1974 when they merged and became the Halton Hills Public Library. Below, you can explore the Library's long history in Halton Hills.

Short history of the land

Prior to European contact, the ancestors of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation occupied the lands north of Lake Superior and the area around Georgian Bay. The Mississaugas lived lightly on the lands they occupied and purposefully moved about the landscape harvesting resources as they became available.

Mississauga Territory

The ancestors of the Mississaugas of the Credit migrated into Southern Ontario by means of military conquest. After the Iroquois had expelled the Huron from Southern Ontario in 1649-50, they continued their attacks northward into the territories occupied by the Mississaugas and their allies. By the end of the 17th century, the Mississaugas and their allies had succeeded in driving the Iroquois back into their homelands south of Lake Ontario. At the conclusion of the conflict, many Mississaugas settled at the eastern end of Lake Ontario; other Mississaugas settled at the western end of the lake with their primary location at the mouth of the Credit River.

The Mississaugas of the Credit occupied, controlled and exercised stewardship over approximately 3.9 million acres of lands, waters, and resources in Southern Ontario. Their territory extended from the Rouge River Valley westward across to the headwaters of the Thames River, down to Long Point on Lake Erie and then followed the shoreline of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Lake Ontario until arriving back at the Rouge River Valley.

From the time of the conquest of New France in 1760, the British Crown recognized the inherent rights of First Nations and their ownership of the lands they occupied. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 confirmed First Nations’ sovereignty over their lands and prevented anyone, other than the Crown, from purchasing that land. The Crown, needing First Nations’ land for military purposes or for settlement, would first have to purchase it from its indigenous occupants.

Ajetance Treaty, No.19 (1818)

Treaty 19, also known as the Ajetance Purchase, was signed on October 28, 1818, by representatives of the Crown and Anishinaabe peoples. The territory described in the written Treaty covers approximately 6,500 km².

The Ajetance Purchase is named for the Chief of the Credit River Mississaugas. Some signatories of this Treaty also signed Treaty 18, such as James Givins, who worked with Reverend Peter Jones at the Credit Mission.

For more information, please visit the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation website. Also available on their website, under Treaty Lands and Territory, is a detailed history on the Ajetance Treaty, No. 19 (1818).

1880: The Georgetown Public Library begins

The Georgetown Public Library began as a Mechanics' Institute in the spring of 1880. The purpose of the institute was to encourage working-class people who had finished school to continue their education. The Mechanics' Institute presented lectures and evening classes, as well as a reading room stocked with newspapers and magazines.

The Georgetown Mechanics' Institute was funded through membership dues and occasional grants from the village council ($25 to $40 at a time). The council also gave the institute a building, rent free.

The Georgetown Mechanics' Institute started out with more than 100 members. Membership fell when the annual membership fee rose to $1, equivalent to a day's wages and therefore too expensive for most of the working men the Institute was supposed to benefit.

1883: The Acton Public Library begins

In 1883 the Board of Education for Acton transferred the public school library to the new Acton Town hall. The public could visit the library at 7pm a few days per week and choose from 1400 books.

The Acton Free Library Board had their first meeting on April 1, 1898. Members of the Board included Mr. H.P. Moore, editor and owner of the Acton Free Press, John Cameron, a local builder, and the ministers of the Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches.

The life of a Victorian librarian

As long as there were only a couple thousand books and the library was open only two or three nights per week, only one staff person, typically a young woman was hired. Acton's first public librarian was Miss Ettie Laird, a girl of 16 who also worked at the post office. For $40 a year, she was to enforce all the rules, keep the books in order, keep a record of memberships, notify people with overdue books, keep the room dusted, be courteous at all times to members, and reports to the library board. Her wages were raised to $50 in 1901, $90 in 1913 and $120 in 1918.

Miss Alberta Glass was hired as the first librarian of the Georgetown Library in 1899. Her salary was $100 per year.

Rules of the Acton Library

The rules of the library were fairly simple. You had to be 14 and known to the librarian or vouched for by a responsible citizen. A library card cost five cents and a printed list of the books in the library cost another ten. Members could borrow one book at a time and overdue fines were charged at the rate of five cents per day. There were additional charges for turning down the corners of pages, marking or defacing books. Noise and loud conversations were forbidden.

1912: The Georgetown Library moves next to Knox Presbyterian Church

The Georgetown Library book collection was too big for the space available in the Georgetown Town Hall. The library board applied to the Carnegie Estate, which had been so generous with other public libraries across North America, to donate towards a new building. The Library was turned down in 1903 and again in 1910.

The solution presented itself in 1912 when the members of the local Congregational Church, anticipating the union of the Congregational Church with those of the Methodists and Presbyterians, decided to move next door to Knox Presbyterian. The founding president of the Georgetown Mechanics Institute and leading local industrialist, John R. Barber, with the other trustees of the Congregational Church deeded the building to the Town to be used as a library.

Renovations to the building (restrooms, a metal ceiling) were completed by J.B. McKenzie of Acton, and the new building opened to the public on October 10th, 1913.

1918: The Acton Library moves to Mill Street

In 1918 the Acton Library Board started looking for a way to expand the library. The 15 by 19 foot room was too small for both the books and a reading room. In 1923 the board approached the Carnegie Trust, but was turned down. It was not until the spring of 1933 when the Murray family left money to expand the library. In the spring of 1935 the library moved to the front of the new YMCA building on the corner of Mill Street.

1973: Creation of the Town of Halton Hills Public Library

Despite considerable local protest, in 1973 the provincial government merged Esquesing with Acton and Georgetown to create Halton Hills. In accordance with the Public Libraries Act, there could only be one Library Board and in 1974 the Boards merged.

In 1974 the new Library Board hired its first professional Chief Librarian & CEO, Betsy Cornwell.

1981: Georgetown Branch Renovation

The biggest issue facing the newly formed Halton Hills Public Library Board was the severely cramped library in Georgetown. Renovating the Church Street location did not look possible and an alternate site at nearby Cedarvale Park was planned. When this fell through, the renovation of the Church Street Branch went ahead and the new Branch opened in October 1981, adding a 267-seat theatre (The John Elliott Theatre) and an art gallery.

2011: A New Acton Branch

Accessibility at the Acton Branch Centennial Building had long been a problem since all floors of the library could only be accessed by stairs. Several options for installing a chair lift or elevator were examined. In 2009 a Federal Government Infrastructure Stimulus Funding grant became available and construction on the new Acton Branch began.

The grand opening of the new, modern, energy-efficient and fully accessible Acton Branch Library was held on Saturday, February 26th, 2011. The 9,000 square foot building received LEED Gold Certification for its use of environmentally friendly construction materials and its geothermal heating and cooling system.

2013: A New Georgetown Branch

Less than one month after the new Acton Branched opened, in March 2011, the Georgetown Branch moved to a temporary location in the former Holy Cross Church at 224 Maple Avenue.

The newly renovated and expanded Georgetown Branch was officially opened on January 26th, 2013. The project allowed the branch to grow in size from 12,000 to 34,400 square feet. In 2014, the Georgetown Branch was awarded LEED Silver Certification for the building's environmental features, including a green roof, and geothermal heating system.